The Evangelical Manifesto: A Lesson in National Pride

A group of Evangelicals recently released a manifesto detailing some goals for Evangelicals today that include recommitting our focus on the Gospel, untangling ourselves from partisan politics, and immersing ourselves in social justice–by way of naming a few points from a rather lengthy and complex document. I appreciate what they’re trying to do and I respect those who wrote and signed it. Evangelicals are such a slippery, diverse, and evolving movement that no one document or group could hope to exhaustively catch every nuance (though some have pointed out faults).

The reason for the Manifesto is as follows:

“For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.”

Not a bad goal. Not a bad document from what I’ve read and read about it. Not a bad call for the leaders who wanted to set a new course since leaders are supposed to stick their necks out, take the lead, and let others follow. On the plus side, we now have an official document we can point to if we’re accused of being too political or lacking in compassion. We can now say, “Look, we’ve got people trying to steer us on a new course.” It’s worth a shot!

While we could pick this thing apart all day and snipe at bits and pieces… I have one concern. Do we really think America is the center of Christianity today? Well, it’s the center of the magazine Christianity Today, but I’m wondering if India, South Africa, and heck the whole continent of South America may have something to teach us since there are plenty of Evangelicals there (Mark Knoll says as much in beginning of The Rise of Evangelicalism). The Evangelical movement may have started in Europe and then moved over to America, but we’re not the only ones living this stuff.

When the Nicene Creed was written, Christians from all over the known world gathered together. Travel was tough and treacherous in those days. With e-mail it wouldn’t be that hard to include some global voices in the statement. I’m guessing we would have ended up with a better notion of how to mix faith and justice together and a lot more about the role of the Holy Spirit. Just a hunch.

It’s funny, we really want to change the course of Evangelicalism in America, but we’re not seeking help from those who can help us the most. Ah, the American “can-do” spirit!

2 thoughts on “The Evangelical Manifesto: A Lesson in National Pride

  1. mike rucker

    lots of good thoughts. i’m enjoying reading the various opinions here and there around the web. i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but i’m actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addresses.

    one of the things i like is that the authors have chosen not to list creationism and inerrancy as non-negotiables. for the first, there’s very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can’t prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. still, some people hold to these positions; so be it. there’s simply too much of a tendency to add items to the ever-increasing laundry list of ideas and doctrines to which we have to pledge allegiance before we’re allowed into the room marked “Christian.”

    nothing’s going to please everybody, and there are a few things i object to. for instance, i don’t agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus’ message uses “action” verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know … if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

    you write, I have one concern. Do we really think America is the center of Christianity today? man, so true. but i liked these words: We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage. somehow, we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to peacefully share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

    one interesting thing: maybe i missed it, but there doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. do you think that was intentional? i didn’t see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography…

    more than anything, i find myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece – that it isn’t yet another “here’s everything we’re against” rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that – the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

    perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

    one can only hope…

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa

  2. ed Post author

    Thanks Mike for your thoughtful comment. You certainly add a lot to my post.

    One question, how are you defining evangelism? Is kingdom or missional living immersed in the world enough or do we need a statement specifically detailing the importance of verbally sharing the Gospel? I’m not sure where I land yet on that one. I feel like I’ve been so burdened with guilt about evangelism and have done it poorly for so long that I have been realigning myself along the following lines:

    A. Accept the love of Jesus and love him back.
    B. Be nice to people.
    C. When appropriate, talk about my love for Jesus, but never force it.

    That’s kind of where I’m at. I wouldn’t know how to sum it up in a statement for the manifesto, but we very well may need something to keep us on track. Good thoughts, good questions.

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